July 6th, 2010
06:48 PM ET

Nasr explains controversial tweet on Lebanese cleric

Fadlallah died Sunday in a hospital in Beirut, Lebanon.

My tweet was short: "Sad to hear of the passing of Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah.. One of Hezbollah's giants I respect a lot. #Lebanon"

Reaction to my tweet was immediate, overwhelming and a provides a good lesson on why 140 characters should not be used to comment on controversial or sensitive issues, especially those dealing with the Middle East.

It was an error of judgment for me to write such a simplistic comment and I'm sorry because it conveyed that I supported Fadlallah's life's work. That's not the case at all.

Here's what I should have conveyed more fully:

I used the words "respect" and "sad" because to me as a Middle Eastern woman, Fadlallah took a contrarian and pioneering stand among Shia clerics on woman's rights. He called for the abolition of the tribal system of "honor killing." He called the practice primitive and non-productive. He warned Muslim men that abuse of women was against Islam.

I met Fadlallah in 1990. He was willing to take the risk of meeting with a young Christian journalist from the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation. Fadlallah was at the height of his power. As I was ushered in, I was told that he would not look at me in the eye and to make it quick as there was a long line of dignitaries waiting.

The interview went 45 minutes, during which I asked him about Hezbollah's agenda for an Islamic state in Lebanon. He bluntly told me that was his group's dream but there would be room for other religions. He also joked at the end of the interview that the solution for Lebanon's civil war was to send "all political leaders without exception on a ship away from Lebanon with no option to return."

He challenged me to run the entire interview on LBC without editing. We did.

This does not mean I respected him for what else he did or said. Far from it.

It is no secret that Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah hated with a vengeance the United States government and Israel. He regularly praised the terror attacks that killed Israeli citizens. And as recently as 2008, he said the numbers of Jews killed in the Holocaust were wildly inflated.

But it was his commitment to Hezbollah's original mission - resisting Israel's occupation of Lebanon - that made him popular and respected among many Lebanese, not just people of his own sect.

In 1983, as Fadlallah found his voice as a spiritual leader, Islamic Jihad - soon to morph into Hezbollah - bombed the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut, killing 299 American and French peacekeepers. I lost family members in that terror attack.

And it was during his time as spiritual leader that so many Westerners were kidnapped and held hostage in Lebanon.

When the Lebanese Civil War ended in 1990 with Syria taking full control of Lebanon, Hezbollah was and remains the only armed militia in Lebanon. Under Syria's influence however, Hezbollah - declared a terrorist group by the United States and the European Union started becoming even more militant, with designs beyond Lebanon's borders to serve agendas for Syria and Iran.

Fadlallah himself was designated a terrorist by the U.S. Treasury Department.

In later years, Hezbollah's leadership apparently did not like Fadlallah's vocal criticism of Hezbollah's allegiance to Iran. Nor did they like his assertions that Hezbollah's leaders had been distracted from resistance to Israeli occupation of portions of Lebanon and had turned weapons against their own people.

At first, he was simply pushed to the side, but later wasn't even referred to as a Hezbollah member. Rather, he was referred to as the scholar - the expert on Islam - but nothing more. During the 2006 war between Hezbollah and Israel, his honorary title "Sayyed" - indicating that he's a descendant of the prophet - was dropped any time he was mentioned on Hezbollah's Al-Manar TV and other Hezbollah media outlets.

Through his outspoken Friday sermons and his regularly updated website, Fadlallah had a platform to spread what many considered a more moderate voice of Shia Islam than what was coming out of Iran. Immensely popular in Lebanon among the various religious groups, he also had followers across the region including in Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and even as far as Morocco in northern Africa.

Sayyed Fadlallah. Revered across borders yet designated a terrorist. Not the kind of life to be commenting about in a brief tweet. It's something I deeply regret.

soundoff (315 Responses)
  1. Doc

    Just goes to show that "free speech" is NO LONGER tolerated or accepted in America, especially if it is contrary to the stated government stance. And the people just sit by and allow our supposed "democratic" freedoms to be eroded!!

    July 9, 2010 at 2:59 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Sam

    I would like to thank CNN for firing Octavia because she will go work for El Djazeera which I have on my TV and they will let her express herself as a smart woman. Guys go wtach El Djazeera, an arab news channel who is really a tribute for free speech not like CNN where u can see only adds and stupid programs. THANKS TO CNN!

    July 9, 2010 at 3:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solomon Morgenstern

      You're exactly the kind of viewer they like. Miss a few days of school did you? AL JAZEERA, to spell it correctly, is also biased. If she (Nasr) was so intelligent, why didn't she keep her comments to herself and read the news? Naturally CNN is going to snap when someone honors a dead terroist on live tv. Millions of viewers think that is the opinion of CNN, hence the fact that they chose to distance themselves. Freedom of Speech is alive and well but, there are rules to doing it. You cannot use a news channel to express your PERSONAL VIEWS. You can however blog or stand in a public square after having applied for a permit to do so. She was clearly in breach of contract, according to her employment contract she signed. CNN has to maintain their Code of Conduct, she broke it, she flies. Next.....

      July 10, 2010 at 6:48 am | Report abuse |
  3. RB

    SHAME ON YOU CNN. SHAME ON YOU. I AM OFFICIALLY BOYCOTTING YOU. YOU PRIDE YOURSELVES WITH "KEEPING THE WORLD HONEST" AND YOU DIDN'T EVEN DIG DEEPER TO UNDERSTAND THE TRUE MEANING OF WHAT NASR MEANT. SHAME SHAME SHAME. YOU JUST LOST ALL MY RESPECT. YOU WANT TO BE THAT KIND OF A STATION, FINE- YOU JUST KEEP LOSING MORE OF YOUR INTELLIGENT VIEWERS. GOOD BYE.

    July 9, 2010 at 6:04 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Scott

    CNN continues to grow their credibility gap with the few remaining sources of journalism today.

    July 9, 2010 at 9:41 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Fatma

    Let truth be told!

    July 10, 2010 at 12:06 am | Report abuse |
  6. offtime

    You have nothing to be ashamed of. You made a very difficult choice, to voice your opinion. Don't apologize for being honest, I wouldn't. Not many people follow their heart. That took alot of courage. No matter the consequences. You are a true role-model. DO NOT LET THIS DETER YOU!

    July 10, 2010 at 2:54 am | Report abuse |
  7. Solomon Morgenstern

    All jews are not Zionists. Choose your words carefully. Than's what causes social difference. I would reccomend reading books. Lots of them.

    July 10, 2010 at 6:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Wissam

    Allen, just for your knowledge, we the Lebanese are much more insightful than you superficial fellows are there. I am Christian and I care for my religion more than you do, hollow-minded people over there. Get a life!
    You know nothing. Read more, please read more and get to know what's happening here and who are we, The Lebanese people. I feel with pity towards pathetic people like you. I am against Israeli invasion of lands as well as against any war with them or the use of military to solve any form of problem. I am against mass destruction, against Irani policies and against the formation of an Islamic State. SO ARE MOST OF THE LEBANESE HERE. But first, know what your DEAR ISRAELIS ARE DOING!! They are a major source of disruption and hate in this area. And mind you, they control the world with their gold reserves in the US, so you folks can speak nothing against them. You have to hide their 'misconduct' because you need to protect your economies from falling down!
    And we the Christians, are left alone to dig our way here. No one cares about us.

    July 10, 2010 at 9:16 am | Report abuse |
  9. Mohab

    After #Helen Thomas & #Octivia Nasr, Who will be the next "freedom of expression" victim of the U.S. Media Democracy? The question Is there any "freedom of expression" in U.S. Media & particularly in CNN?

    July 10, 2010 at 12:45 pm | Report abuse |
  10. Fadella

    It's really awkward that Octavia Nasr rejected after serving 20 years with CNN; Octavia Nasr has been a victim of terrorism Israeli-American media for expressing his feelings about human nature.
    Octavia Nasr tweeting she had "great respect" for a very moderate Lebanese preacher.
    Her reaction is understandable as Lebanese. It is ungrateful of part from CNN to deny the excellent journalism Otavia and rejected because of a personal message to 140 characters. That seems terribly unfair, and a bad sign for journalistic ethics. It is interesting that Fadlallah was in its way, a moderating force for women at the heart of Islam. I still fall in Nasr expression of "respect", but I do not think that is remotely as simple as her tweet indicated, I do not think it's outside the realm of opinion acceptable. Twenty years of hard work, throws like that, there is a chain of obedience to the Zionist.

    July 10, 2010 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  11. kushibo

    And Ms Nasr is being FIRED for this?

    I knew right away what her tweet meant, having read about the Lebanese cleric in the L.A. Times a day or two earlier. She should not have tweeted such a deep thing in such a shallow form of media where her views can not properly represented. But she certainly doesn't deserve to be fired.

    If this goes through, CNN will no longer light up my TV.

    July 10, 2010 at 2:15 pm | Report abuse |
  12. LazyCamel

    CNN you are pathetic and are the reason why so many have turned off your propaganda and tuned into Al Jazeera. Here's a journalistic lesson for you: just because the US believes Hizbollah is a terrorist organization doesn't mean that CNN has to believe that. It's called Jounalistic Independence – you guys should look it up. Losers. Octavia you shouldn't have apologized to CNN.

    July 10, 2010 at 4:16 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Dest

    Octavia, we support you!

    July 11, 2010 at 2:14 am | Report abuse |
  14. SaeedOmani

    It is very ironic these days that people mostly can’t say the truth and always appreciated when they say otherwise. Truth means no friends.

    July 11, 2010 at 2:33 am | Report abuse |
  15. Samer

    I am sorry to learn that CNN would force a respectable journalist such as Octavia Nasr for freely expressing her viewpoint. This certainly goes against western democratic values. It also depicts the ignorance of westerners on middle eastern cultures and most importantly it is yet another proof that Zionists are controlling the media in the west. It is indeed a very sad moment for the freedom of speech.

    July 11, 2010 at 5:41 am | Report abuse |
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